Via an Ex-Employee, 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Working at a Major Theme Park

Sam Churchill

Ah, Southern California! If you’re known for one thing that’s not traffic, medical marijuana, avocados, earthquakes, and a drought that will wipe us off the face of the earth in the next two years, its theme parks! Chances are, if you’ve lived in Southern California, you or someone you know has worked at a theme park at least once in their life time. Myself, I spent three long years behind their artificial walls of fun. (no, not THAT major theme park in SoCal. The other one. …no, the OTHER one) When I came in, I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to work. By the time I left, people were cheering like I was Steve McQueen at the end of The Great Escape. I learned and experienced a lot of crazy things in my time there, and I thought I’d share them with you.

1) Management Is Full of Dirty Old Men

Andreas Overland

I’m sure most of you have heard stories about how fucking sexist the entertainment industry can be, and surprise, surprise, the theme park entertainment industry is no different. It’s not hyperbole when I say that every single male member of upper management was a lecherous pervert worthy of a Tex Avery cartoon. Management rarely turned out for auditions for fuzzy (that’s mascot for you laymen) characters, but if an opening for a character best played by a pretty young lady was around, you can bet your britches management turned out in hordes. Attractive lady performers with shitty attitudes and bad evaluations were given the most hours.

Our park had seasonal characters and costumes, and each year management made demands to the costume department that the skirts get shorter and the necklines lower. A female performer could be in hot pants and a bikini top for their costume fitting and management would say they would “just like to see more.” Much like a perverted businessman on a subway in Tokyo, they were constantly in hopes of getting an upskirt glance whenever possible. When one of the costumes involved a pair of shorts, management attempted to prevent the performer from having the option to wear dance tights underneath it when it was cold, because they might miss out on the sweet, sweet chance to catch a glimpse of her butt cheeks. Most of the managers wore loose slacks and carried clipboards around, and the theory was that this was done much in the same way erection-prone teenagers would carry their notebooks in middle school.

2)The Work Culture Is Like Game of Thrones, But Stupider

Heather Kennedy

Much like Game of Thrones, the world of the amusement park was one of betrayal, intrigue, and sexual misconduct! If the world of Game of Thrones were occupied by insecure middle school kids, anyway. Drama ran rampant and while some of that is to be expected in a workplace, at least when you’re working at the Outback Steakhouse there are only one or two assholes to worry about. At this job, the sheer number of co-workers to avoid were astronomical, as there was no one to keep assholishness in check and plenty of people willing to reinforce it.

Hook-ups were common, and so were the stories about gross sex acts that had occurred, regardless of if the other parties wanted to hear it or not. A co-worker once came to work in tears because another girl had slept on the couch of another performer they’d had a crush on after a party. Another co-worker slapped a co-worker across the face after he refused to kiss her. People actively conspired against one another as if their only understanding of social interactions had come from watching Mean Girls non-stop.

Angry Facebook rants about management were screen-capped, printed out, and handed to management more than once. Fellow performers would write passive-aggressive notes about other performers in the “Great Job” box that management would pull out and read to the entire department before realizing what the note said, like a real life Ron Burgundy. It would be one thing if this were a job with nothing but college students, but the majority of these actions were on behalf of adults in their 30’s and upwards.

The worst part was that you couldn’t win. Trying to mind your own business and read a book would get you a “What’s wrong?? Why aren’t you talking??? Are you mad at meeee???” at best; at worst, a talk with a supervisor about how you weren’t being very friendly and needed to work harder on listening to your co-workers complain insistently about each other. Even having a good attitude was enough to get you ragged on. Agree to pick up an extra shift or extend your hours? You were “thirsty”. Yep, things like showing up, doing your job and not picking fights with everyone in the break room made you “thirsty”.

3)The Costumes Will WRECK YOUR BODY

they say if you put your head up to his chest you can hear a grown man crying inside!

I’m sure this comes up on every single other click-bait piece about working in a theme park, but it bears repeating: those cute and cuddly mascot costumes are not just a head and a fur suit. In order to have that cartoon shape, and avoid looking like that deflated creepy Easter Bunny at the mall, the performers also wore “pods” which are essentially fat suits. Just like Ralph, that kind of weight on your body will WRECK IT. I’ve lost count of how many performers had to go on disability for being in agonizing pain. Many who eventually left the place are still unable to do heavy lifting.

The sad part is that some of the injuries could have been prevented. There was one character, we will call him El Flunky, who was so heavy to wear that the number of people who agreed to perform as El Flunky was down to around five people at one point. Many performers admitted that if they were not scheduled as Flunky five days a week, they would actually be ok. However, management refused to break up the times people were scheduled to play this costume that was a Spanish Inquisition breaking wheel in disguise .
If the costume didn’t wreak havoc on your body, the heat would. This might be doable in 60 degree weather, but this theme park was located in Southern California. So performers had five to six times a day where they had to stand out in 80 degree heat and upwards. “But wait!” you say. “Wasn’t there something to make sure the performers could get shade? Or not stand out in the heat when it got too hot?” If your character was allowed to roam the park, maybe they could take solace under an awning, but many characters had to stand in one area for a photo-op, and half the time, this meant no shade. As for the heat: once the temperature was above 90 degrees, then “Heat Sets” could be called, which would reduce the characters’ maximum time on set to 15 minutes. However, you couldn’t count on the temperature at the park. Rules dictated that heat-sets could only be called by, so even if it was 105 degrees at the park, you were shit out of luck if said it was 89.

4) You Can Hit an Employee

Philippe Put

The gag of someone getting punched in a mascot costume might make for hilarity on a gag, but the truth is that inside that costume is an actual human whose body is already ravaged from crazy costume wear. Or, let me rephrase: inside that costume is probably an 18 year old girl under 5’2 who is working her way through college. Much like how people on the internet love sending death threats to people they can’t actual see, park guests LOVED to punch characters in costumes.

This would be one thing if the park actually cared about their employees and the park guest was asked to leave the premise, but in most cases they were simply told by another 18 year old making minimum wage to please not hit the characters. IF your behavior was so bad that it warranted expulsion, there was a very high chance you were refunded your admission ticket. Yes, you heard me right. You can enter a park, get in one good slug at a teenage girl, and get refunded for your troubles.

Oh, and don’t think you could be the brave park employee who puts a stop to this behavior. A few years ago, a very drunk park guest started to wail on a costumed character. There was no security in sight and two other costumed characters managed to pull the drunken lout off of the poor character. They were promptly fired for touching a park guest. On top of dealing with a costume so painful the CIA might be using it as part of their Enhanced Interrogation, and standing out in temperatures to rival mother-fucking-Bartertown, you also have to allow guests to enact their “Rocky in the meat locker” fantasies.

Was there anything people at the park COULDN’T get away with?? Read on to find the answer, dear friends! (spoiler alert. The answer is “their dignity intact”)

5) Employee Delinquency Ran Rampant

Sarah Laval
there’s gonna be a rumble behind the tilt-a-whirl!

When I started to look for a new job, I found myself taking a lot of “Integrity Tests”. These are tests where they ask if you have ever done drugs, picked fights, or stolen from work. “My God,” I thought. “There are jobs where you’re NOT supposed to do those things!”

Work ethic and conduct at the park was a joke. People came to work drunk, drank on the job, then went on a lunch break to drink some more (technically, as your lunch break was unpaid, this was the only part that was actually allowed). Pot was probably more prevalent, and some of the best stories I heard at work were characters who would hot-box their big silly cartoon heads before they went on set. Plenty of people took advantage of the smoke break section at work, but many didn’t even bother to get that far. People even sold pot at work, and were about as discreet about it as walking over to another employee and handing them a bag with the words “DRUGS” written on it. The big urban legend was that there were weed dispensaries where they’d write you a prescription if you said you worked at our theme park.

Theft was prevalent too. Mostly with park food, but multiple costume pieces went missing as well. The preferred method was for the performers to make off with key costume pieces on their final day. One dance show got shut down and the cast made off with half of their costumes. Oh, and don’t worry about if you WERE caught doing drugs and drinking at work, because….

6) The Union Protected You From EVERYTHING but Theft and Truancy

Orange County Archives
oh come on. There was no way I wasn’t gonna use this image.

I don’t mean for this to come across as union bashing, because that’s not my intent. Unions can be great. They make sure you can get things like over time, and lunch breaks. But my pro-union support will have to take five right now, because I want to talk about how much the union covered employee’s asses. Unless you were late/absent from work one too many times, or they could prove that you’d stolen from the company, there was no way you could get in trouble at work. For ANYTHING.

The most that management could do in most cases was what was called a “coach and counsel,” which is the corporate equivalent of being made to write an apology letter to that kid you called a doody-head in kindergarten. A union rep once told me that with a big enough case and documented complaints, it WAS possible to get someone fired for being a hostile jackass, but most employees were not motivated and far too busy fighting and bickering with each other to actually stand together.

One woman had a full-on sexual harassment case against her, with multiple instances of her inappropriately touching other male co-workers. She had an HR case filled but management was unable to actually fire her. In the end she was only fired when she was busted stealing food from the cafeteria. Which means it’s OK to be an inappropriate pervert as long as you show up on time and don’t take any chicken fingers without paying for them.

7) Yes, There Was Barf and Poop

don’t worry! It’s just mud! …I think.

Poor Custodial Services did their best, but during peak seasons, the bathrooms resembled something out of a Saw movie. If you were lucky, the person before you had managed to at the LEAST get their business into the toilet, but I had a co-worker who walked into the bathroom one day to find a turd right on the floor in front of the toilet. I was told once that the reason the seats were covered in urine was because many of our guests were from Asia where the toilets are meant to be squatted on, but I call lies on this fallacy because I visited Asia myself a few years back and never once found the fire hose of urine on Western toilet seats the way I did at that job.

It wasn’t just the park guests, either. Our own performer-only bathrooms tended to be covered in piss, and I came in once to find a used tampon on the floor. Sadly, performers were not always the most hygienic; it got to the point where management had to take a few aside to politely tell them important things like that they needed to shower more than once a week, or to please use sanitary pads when they were on their periods. Performers threw up on their costumes due to illness or just being hung-over, and when it’s that hot out, it’s really hard to discern between which is sweat or which is pee.

Poop wasn’t just left for the bathroom either. Once in the middle of a stunt-show, a performer had a bad bout of food poisoning while on set. He managed to use the show’s quick change as an excuse to get out of his soiled pants, leaving them to be the costume team’s problem!

How about you guys? Ever had a theme park job that went better than mine? Ever pooped your pants at a theme park? I’m dying to know….